Kislev & Hanukkah

The connections between the month and the holiday.

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Every point in the calendar has a unique energy, symbology, and opportunity for growth. The ancient text, Sefer Yetzirah, teaches that the month of Kislev corresponds to the letter Sameh, the astrological sign of Keshet or Sagittarius, and the rectification of "sleep". What can we learn from these correspondences?

The letter Sameh literally means 'to support or uphold'. When people have a deep trust that they are supported, even if they fall into darkness, they are able to bounce back.

The Sign of the Month

Sagittarius is a centaur with a drawn bow. A drawn bow is similar to the above image of 'bouncing back'. The arrow is drawn backwards, and great tension is created. The bowsman trusts, however, that the deeper the arrow regresses, the further it will fly when released.

The Sense of the Month

Sleep, also, involves 'descending' into unconsciousness and vulnerability. An environment that is not trustworthy may keep a person from falling asleep. We tend to sleep only when we can trust that we will awaken.

When Sefer Yetzirah mentions "sleep", it categorizes it as one of several hushim, 'senses'--as in the senses of smell and sight. What does this mean? Some people have a chush--a refined 'sense' or taste for the art of sleeping. In contrast, others have a utilitarian relationship with sleep; they sleep because they're tired or they seek an escape from the waking state. A 'gourmet' sleeper has deeper trust in Divine support, as the Book of Mishlei says, "If you rest, you will not worry; you will lie down and your sleep will be pleasant…, for you will trust Hashem." (Mishlei 2)

When we lack trust, our minds are filled with self-centered worries, doubts, and the unfinished business of the day. This prevents deep, pleasant rest, and we may not 'bounce back' or awaken with energy for the next day. Therefore, to rectify the 'sense' of sleep, to make our sleep more God-centered and "pleasant", we must refine our faculty of trust.

Prophetic Visions of Hanukkah

A few hundred years before the Hanukkah story, the First Temple fell and Jewish sovereignty was stripped from the Land of Israel. One 24th of Kislev during this dark time, the prophet Chagai spoke to his broken People. His words inspired them to expect and envision the magnificent rebuilding of the Temple.

Chagai spoke to the priests of the laws of purity--a prophetic hint, perhaps, to the pure jug of oil that would be found in the future, on the same date. Despite the bleakness of Winter, and the trauma and opposition they had survived, the People were filled with so much Divine trust, that they immediately began to rebuild the Temple.

Another prophet of those difficult times, Zechariah, transmitted to the People an image of purity and grandeur: he prophesied about a menorah of pure gold, flowing continuously with holy oil. Thus, long before the Hanukkah story, the menorah became a symbol of hope and light. Many centuries later too, the menorah became the symbol of the Jewish People, and a major theme in synagogue art and architecture.

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Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson is the Rosh Yeshiva of the IYYUN Yeshiva, a Yeshiva for adults. He is also the founder of the IYYUN Center, a center for Jewish enrichment in Brooklyn, New York, and and is the author of more than ten books on Kabbalah and spirituality.